By Brenda Postels, U of M Extension
Whether you’re planning to plant a new bed next spring or you just want to improve the health of existing planting areas, fall is a great time to work on your garden soil. Garden soil health is key to plant health, so the brief effort that goes into the following steps will pay off big time. Natural soil amendments abound, and the weather is ripe for them to break down and work their magic.
Deciduous leaves that come down in the fall make an excellent lightweight mulch that will quickly break down and feed the garden soil. Shred large leaves before spreading them across the soil to a depth of two or three inches. Small leaves can be placed whole.
Compost, or a compost-and-mulch blend, also makes a nutritious top dressing for garden soil. Scratch mature compost into the soil this fall, then replenish your compost pile with the season’s natural debris. Compost adds valuable nutrients and organic matter. More information on composting can be found at http://z.umn.edu/3s55.
If you’re planting a new bed next spring, prepare now by marking it off, observing its conditions (including soil type and drainage), and killing any existing plants and grass by smothering with layers of cardboard and compost over the winter.
Grow a winter cover crop on the bare soil of vegetable or cutting gardens. Cover crops are cool-season annuals that feed the garden soil when they are mowed or tilled into the ground in early spring. It will increase your organic matter and beneficial organisms. You will have fewer weeds than before. Ryegrass, rapeseed or oats grow quickly in cool weather. More information on cover crops for your garden can be found at http://z.umn.edu/3s54.
Get a soil test. Submit a sample of your soil to the University of Minnesota Soil Testing Lab now and be ready to act on its results later this season, or first thing in spring.
Your soil test results will include information on soil texture, pH, nutrients, organic matter, and provide fertilizer recommendations for the plants you plan to grow. More information on testing your soil can be found at http://z.umn.edu/3s6L.
For more information regarding lawn or garden needs, contact your local county U of M Extension office.